By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Does convicted Ponzi schemer Bernard L. Madoff have cancer, as two newspapers are reporting, or not, as the U.S. Bureau of Prisons is stating?
Under the headline "Bernie's Cancer Cell," the New York Post reported Monday that Madoff, who was sentenced to 150 years in prison for swindling investors out of as much as $65 billion, wrote: "Bernie Madoff had little to lose by confessing to masterminding the world's biggest Ponzi scheme -- he's dying of cancer, sources told The Post."
The story goes on to say that Madoff, 71, has been telling fellow inmates that he doesn't have long to live.
"He's been taking about 20 pills a day for his cancer," the Post quoted one inmate, anonymously. "He talks about it all the time. He's not doing very well."
(The Post story also had some colorful details, such as reporting that Madoff is participating in American Indian purification rituals and is being recruited by gang members.)
Later in the day, the Wall Street Journal reported that it had confirmed the Post's story.
But then after that, the Bureau of Prisons released the following statement: "While the NY Post story is full of inaccuracies, and we can't specifically address all of them, we can tell you that Bernie Madoff is not terminally ill, and has not been diagnosed with cancer."
Madoff is jailed at the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina, which has one of the better medical facilities in the federal penal system. Madoff would have undergone a physical on his July 14 admission.
Of course, there is some wiggle room in the Bureau of Prisons' statement: Prison doctors may not have yet diagnosed Madoff with cancer.
And it's possible to have cancer but not be terminally ill.
Nevertheless, of the three subjects mentioned so far in this story -- Madoff, inmates and prison officials -- two clearly suffer a credibility gap.
Where ever the truth lies, the stories have served to renew speculation about why Madoff has stonewalled federal prosecutors seeking to reclaim the billions of dollars he stole.
In the meantime, the feds are cracking down on Madoff co-conspirators, so even if he succeeds in thwarting the recovery efforts, he may not be the only one who knows where the money is hidden.
Adapted from the Ticker blog at http://voices.washingtonpost.com/economy-watch.